EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When Nets coach Lawrence Frank walked into the huddle to explain how he wanted his team's final play run in Game 6, the most surprised guy on the bench was Richard Jefferson. That play had been designed for him, not Vince Carter.
Final play wasn't total Vinsanity
"Honestly, I haven't had the ball in my hands for a game-winning shot in I don't know how long, and especially a play drawn up for me, and especially with Vince Carter on the team," Jefferson said. "Since I've been here, he's probably hit seven or eight game- winners. But Vince was the first one over there to congratulate me."
Jefferson wasn't the only one stunned by the final play call -- or with the way his final possession went. The coaches for the Toronto Raptors, like everyone else in the building, expected the final shot to go to Carter. And when the ball went to Jefferson, they were convinced he'd go to his right. But Jefferson made the winning basket by driving right, spinning left and finishing with his left hand.
"That was the first time in the whole series he scored going left," one of the Toronto assistants told me outside the Toronto locker room.
Even Jefferson himself didn't quite believe he finished with his left hand, asking a TV cameraman in the locker room afterward to play back a shot of his game-deciding bucket with 8.3 seconds left so he could see for himself.
"Well, it's not that I have no left, but I am dominant right," Jefferson explained. "Honestly what's happened is this is the ankle I had surgery on [pointing to his right ankle] and this is the wrist I had surgery on [pointing to his left wrist] in the last two years, so jumping off this leg and finishing with this hand is something that I've probably gotten away from."
Jefferson also came up with the biggest defensive play of the game, reaching up to intercept Jose Calderon's not-lobbed-enough lob pass intended for Chris Bosh with 1.9 seconds left to wrap up New Jersey's 98-97 victory in Game 6 as the Nets moved on to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round beginning Sunday.
This will be the fifth time in the past six years that New Jersey has gone on to the second round, and while they'll be the underdog against the Cavs, they're not to be taken lightly -- especially now that they're hitting a stride they had been waiting for throughout a season that included Jefferson missing 27 games due to ankle surgery, and especially with Jason Kidd exiting this series having averaged a triple-double with 14.0 points, 13.2 assists and 10.0 rebounds (the 10th time in NBA history a player has averaged a TD in a playoff series), and not to mention Carter having shaken off his early-series jitters to score 27, 30 and 21 in the final three games.
Of course, the thing that makes this all sort of surreal for the Nets is the fact that they were thisclose a couple months ago to basically blowing their whole team up, entertaining offers for Carter and Kidd right up until the morning of trading deadline day.
I cornered Nets president Rod Thorn in the locker room afterward and tried six different methods of asking him about the Kidd trade talks before growing exasperated and putting it to him like this: "Given how well Jason has played in this series, why would you even have considered trading him?"
"We'll, that's a very pertinent point you make," Thorn replied with his trademark West Virginia chuckle thrown in. "Since the trade deadline he's played absolutely great. Absolutely.
"You know, there are times when some of the best things you do are things you don't do," Thorn said.
Like calling the last play for Carter. Or trading Kidd.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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That's Mickael Pietrus of the Golden State Warriors surfing the crowd after their series-clinching Game 6 victory against Dallas.
Detroit will attempt to grind these games out, feature Rasheed Wallace and Chris Webber in pick-and-pop, and get Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton in post-up situations. The Pistons' ball-screen actions will be somewhat neutralized by the Bulls' excellent perimeter defenders and Ben Wallace inside.
Chicago will push on offense, taking quick 3s or setting up multiple screens (on and off the ball) to free up its shooters and drivers. The matchup of Prince vs. Luol Deng may be the most telling one, but Deng is one of the few guys who can score efficiently against Prince. If Prince has to give up his normal help responsibilities to stay focused on slowing down the red-hot Deng, then Chicago may cut up Detroit with Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon.
Ben Wallace is far more active than Webber or Rasheed, and will keep many play-sets alive with tip-outs to teammates. Detroit's potential for an emotional meltdown in a particular game is real. And Chicago seems to be clicking on all cylinders. I like the Bulls in this tight matchup, but you can't expect them to win a Game 7 in Detroit. So, with Deng and Gordon doing the most damage, I'm going with ...
PREDICTION: CHICAGO 4, DETROIT 2
Kyle (Apple Valley): Chris, as a Mavs loyalist should I be worried about next season, and the future? Any chance Cuban spends big bucks to bring in a big, powerfull guard like Billups, or another powehouse. Besides that what else is wrong?
Chris Sheridan: If a player like Jermaine O'Neal comes on the market, I think they have to take a long hard look at giving up Dirk for him -- especially if they think they've gone as far under Dirk as possible. Let's face it, that team has had mental meltdowns the past two postseasons that would make Britney Spears envious. Maybe it is time, despite what Cuban said last night, to blow it up.
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
Surprise No. 1: Richard Jefferson takes the Nets' final shot. Surprise No. 2: He uses his left hand. And that, not too surprisingly, left the Raps in the land of playoff extinction.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
Q: How much does that [ranking beating Dallas as most memorable win] have to do with Mark Cuban being on the other side?
A: I've tried to take the high road on that and I still want to take the high road. All the BS things that were said during this series, it's hard not to respond. But I don't want to lower myself into a pissing match. So I think that's what I'm going to try to keep doing. Someday -- I don't know, maybe I'm stupid -- I'd like for us to have some sort of relationship. It'll never be what it was [at the beginning of their time together in Dallas], but you never know. Time heals all wounds.
Q: Can you have any sympathy for Dirk in this situation? Obviously he's the opponent now, but you and your son Donnie drafted him and had a big role in developing him.
A: It kills me. I'm not happy to see what he's going through now. I am saddened by that.
Q: You know Dirk as well as anyone. Can he rebound from this?
A: He's got to. He doesn't have any choice. He's a great, great player. I know it's an embarrassing moment for him right now and it won't be easy to pick up that [MVP] trophy, but he's got to do it and get over it. You can learn a lot through adversity."
Jason Kidd averaged 13.2 assists per game and 10.0 rebounds per game in the series. Only one other NBA player averaged at least 13 assists per game and 10 or more rebounds per game in a postseason series: Magic Johnson (14.0 assists and 10.5 rebounds against San Antonio in the 1983 Western Conference finals).
Andrei Kirilekno came up big in Game 6. Not only did he do a great job defensively, particularly with late blocks on Yao and Tracy McGrady, but gained confidence offensively, which poses a dilemma for Houston.
McGrady is Houston's weakest defender and they have been fortunate to be able to hide him on the non-aggressive Kirilenko this series. If AK-47 shoots well and scores in Game 7 it will difficult for Houston to adjust.